Coaching & Mentoring: Sometimes It's About The Pebbles

I've had the very cool, very humbling opportunities of mentoring and coaching other IT folks over the last two years or so. The topics are varied but mostly I try to encourage the people I've spoken with or understand what they are struggling with and see if we can solution something out between the two of us. It's been pretty exciting for me to give back to the IT community in this way.

When I was starting in IT, I had a lot of coaches, managers, and mentors who did various things to encourage me and help me deal with some tough situations. Working as a woman in tech can get very discouraging at times and many folks were there to help me through situations and roadblocks which might have resulted in me quitting IT all together. Without mentors and coaches, many of us wouldn't be were we are today.

I was recently discussing with a mentee some difficulties they were having trying to find a way to be valuable on a team. There were large problems that we both identified which should be addressed for some major roadblocks to be resolved. However, we also identified that neither one of us was in a really good position to resolve those roadblocks and issues which caused us to feel like we weren't doing our best testing.

While there were many examples of issues which I could list here, I don't feel like those issues are important to the story. What is important; what we resolved in our discussion that day was to find ways we could gather pebbles and make those pebbles count.

What I Mean By Pebbles

We all see the glaring, huge problems day in and day out. However, many of us are not in the position to affect those problems and make sweeping changes. What we can do, what we are empowered to do is find small problems and fix them, or bring the problem down to our level and fix it locally.

By looking at the problem mountain and picking a pebble off of it, we are making that conscience decision to lead by example. Moving pebbles can eventually cause avalanches and bring down mountains of problems. Moving pebbles can eventually have a chain reaction on a larger mountain of problems. It's an easier approach than trying to deal with a whole mountain of a problems at once which can seem pretty futile.

One Example

While I mentioned earlier that I wasn't going to list the issues, I feel like this particular one is common enough in IT and an excellent example of how a problem can be reduced to a pebble and that pebble can effect change on a larger scale.

I heard over and over again that a lot of people felt that testing wasn't visible enough in the organization. I thought about the problem. I thought about what could fix the problem on at a larger scale, and I realized I didn't have the power to affect the problem on that scale, yet.

However, I brought the problem down to my level. What could I do to change the visibility of testing for developers and stakeholders I interact with? I started adding all my notes, screen shots, and workflow videos to the stories on the storyboard. By doing this, I created visibility for my team, and for stakeholders, and the larger organization. It's a simple thing. It's something I generally do anyway and it cost me very little effort.

Since I started adding this information to the stories, I've had comments from team members, feedback from other teams, and stakeholders about how valuable the information is to them and what they plan on doing with it.

This display of visibility is infectious. It filters out into the different groups I'm involved with and then is held up as an example of what people could do. This is the chain reaction I'm seeking. This is the start of what could eventually be a tipping point which turns into the avalanche which allows a larger change to happen.

Looking For Pebbles

The mountain is right there! It's huge! Why doesn't anyone see it? Well, sometimes people get used to the mountain being there and they don't see it as a problem anymore. They see it as part of the scenery that they have to bypass or work-around to accomplish what they need to do. While it could be applauded that many have found ways to work around issues, allowing issues like this to continue is detrimental to a larger organization eventually.

There is a fine line between creating a work-around to an issue, fixing it for your team by setting an example, or adding to the problem. The thing is, you never know which one it is until you try something.

Pebbles are ways of finding that small scale experiment and putting it to work, displaying it, and getting feedback. If something isn't working on a small scale, it won't work to solve the problem on a larger one. If your experiment works, but it's not creating enough momentum, you'll have to decide if it's worth continuing, or if you need to broadcast your results to a wider audience, aka - presentations, lighting talks, blogging, v-logging.

Collect your pebbles. Show them to as many people as you can. You never know when those pebbles will move mountains.


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